Former crime and politics reporter, David Pepose, broke into comics with his Spencer & Locke series, about a detective teaming up with his childhood imaginary panther to solve his grade-school sweetheart’s murder. Now, Pepose returns with Going to The Chapel, an explosive romantic heist story that combines a conflicted bride, her dysfunctional family, a gang of Elvis-themed crooks, and one relentless sheriff.
David took some time to chat with Forces of Geek about the book, his collaborators and future projects.
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FOG!: After two successful Spencer & Locke mini-series, you went in a completely different direction with Going to The Chapel. What is the series about and what was it’s genesis?
David Pepose: Going to The Chapel is the story of the Bad Elvis Gang, a group of rockabilly bank robbers who decide robbing weddings might be easier than robbing banks. Unfortunately, they’re going to find out just how wrong they are — because Emily, the bride at this particular wedding, has a serious case of cold feet. When the police wind up crashing the Bad Elvis Gang’s heist, Emily will have to become the unlikely ringleader of her own hostage situation to not just get everyone out in one piece, but to decide what her own happily ever after is going to look like.
And you nailed it, after spending two years on the first Spencer & Locke, I thought it would be fun to tell a story on the other side of the law. What set the initial spark for Going to The Chapel was that I was the best man at my oldest friend’s wedding — the bachelor party I planned was so horrible that I started imagining worst-case scenarios for the rest of the big day. What if the father of the bride hired leg-breakers to “persuade” the best man? That idea eventually evolved into the Bad Elvis Gang — but then I thought, what if the bride just had second thoughts? That turned into the big dramatic arc of the whole series.
I loved the first issue and I’m definitely hooked. What were the inspirations/influences for the story?
There was a ton of different influences on Going to The Chapel — the biggest influence being Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino. I loved the way that they were able to tell such a fully-realized story in a single location, and in particular I thought the way that relationship between the bank robbers and their hostages evolved was such a fun dynamic. Death at a Funeral was another huge inspiration behind our book — the dysfunctional comedy about a sprawling family trying to put on a dignified funeral (and failing at every possible opportunity) is one of my favorites. But there were lots of bits and pieces taken from things ranging from Die Hard to Point Break to Arrested Development to Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Gavin, Liz and I also talked a lot about different visual influences for the book — Gavin and I zeroed in quickly on the Western feel of the book, tapping into film and TV like Breaking Bad, Hell or High Water, Reservoir Dogs and Baby Driver to get that mix of stylish and irreverent. As far as colors, Liz and I used Matt Wilson’s work on Black Widow as a key influence, as well as Patricia Martin’s accent colors on Secret Weapons, which wound up turning into a very unique sort of palette that gives Going to The Chapel an energy that you won’t find anywhere else.
How did your creative team of artist Gavin Guidry, colorist Liz Kramer, and letterer Ariana Maher get involved and what do each of them bring to the book?
Gavin was the first member of the creative team I got on board — he was looking for his next project following his one-shot The Night Driver, which just blew me away based on his ability to shift from stylish horror to expressive comedy in just a few pages. And Gavin really has outdone himself in breathing life into these characters — he plays up every emotion so nicely, and that means that every line of dialogue gets to sing that much more thanks to his designs. He’s like the love child of Jamie McKelvie and Doc Shaner, so I’m excited that Going to The Chapel is his Direct Market debut, because he’s going to absolutely blow up sooner rather than later. I’ll go into this a little bit more later, but Gavin also created a fully-rendered, three-dimensional chapel on Sketchup, to help make sure that the chapel felt like its own character as well.
Ariana was the next member of the team that I recruited — I was a big fan of her work on Nancy Drew over at Dynamite, and I was confident she’d be able to keep the flow of the dialogue running smoothly, to make sure that every one-liner connected with readers. She knocked it completely out of the park, and every time you laugh at this series, it’s directly because of her.
Liz was our final member of the core creative team, and honestly, I see her as our secret weapon — learn her name now, because she’s going to be the next superstar colorist out there. We went through a few iterations of colorists, but scheduling kept taking people out of the running — thankfully, my friend Mara Jayne Carpenter had introduced me to Liz at C2E2 last year, and I had been so impressed with her webcomic Threader that I knew I needed to work with her. We’re actually working together on another series right now, and it’s all because of the incredible sense of texture and mood Liz brings to every page.
There’s a pretty large ensemble cast of characters in Going to The Chapel. What challenges are there making sure that they are all served and that they all remain in the narrative?
Definitely — I think we have 15 or 16 characters in each issue, and almost all of them are locked in a single location. That’s where having the heightened characteristics of this dysfunctional family comedy really helped, not to mention Gavin’s expressive art style — it meant we could really play up each character’s personality with just a single line or panel, and let readers know exactly what kind of person each bank robber and member of the wedding party were about.
It’s also part of the reason we set this heist at a wedding — there’s such a hierarchical structure to weddings, from the father of the bride to the maid of honor to the best man to the flower girl. It’s universal enough that everyone knows what these characters look like to some degree, and that means we’re able to pack a lot of information with just a little bit of real estate.
But it also took a ton of time to get this series in precision form. I wrote and rewrote the treatment of the series numerous times before I even approached Gavin and the rest of the team — and then when Gavin actually was on board, he and I choreographed the whole series plot point by plot point, almost like a football play, so he could design the chapel to accommodate.
Normally I leave myself a little bit of room for improvisation with a script, but for Going to The Chapel, we really had to have the major beats laid out before we could progress too far in the scripting phase. It meant the initial prep work for this series took longer than usual, but once that was established, the scripting went insanely fast.
Based on the story packed first issue, there won’t be much slowing down before the end of the series. Depending on it’s reception, are these characters you’d revisit either in a prequel or sequel?
Ha, reception — I see what you did there! (Laughs) You know, while I wrote Going to The Chapel as a standalone story in mind, I have thought about how we’d expand this series, just in case — I’ve got a sequel idea in my back pocket, if people are really interested.
I think the Bad Elvis Gang are just a fun bunch of criminals, but beyond that, I think so much of Going to The Chapel is about fear of change, and ultimately fear of growth — there are plenty of big moments that people go through in their lives, and I think Emily and Jesse and the Bad Elvis Gang can each be effective lenses to see those milestones through.
And I do have one idea for a prequel featuring the Bad Elvis Gang — it’s a wild one, but it’s the story of what their schtick was before they put on the Elvis masks. I’d say it’s a story that probably will never happen, but if you corner me at a convention, I’ll tell you what it is.
What else do you have coming up?
I’m hard at work at my upcoming sci-fi heist series Grand Theft Astro — I’m midway through the second-to-last script, and the art from Jordi Perez is just incredible. I’m also working on a new fantasy story that I’m really excited about — we’ve got a superb art team attached, and I think people are going to see this series as sort of a spiritual successor to the work I did on Spencer & Locke. I’ve also got a pair of crime series that I’m fleshing out, a pair of sci-fi series that I’m looking to find homes for, and I just started my new newsletter called Pep Talks… it’s very busy over here. (Laughs)
Additionally, I’m traveling a lot for conventions and store signings, as well. I’m tabling at Rose City Comic Con in Portland next month as well, followed by back-to-back-to-back signings at New York Comic Con, Los Angeles Comic Con, and Baltimore Comic Con in October. It’s an exciting way to cap off my year!
What are you currently geeking out over?
In comics, I’ve been geeking out over House of X and Powers of X like everybody else in the industry — Jonathan Hickman is doing some really innovative stuff on these books, and I’m excited to see where he takes the X-Men from here. Also really digging Absolute Carnage — I think Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are delivering one of the best Marvel event books in recent memory. And I’m a diehard Archie mark — the weirder, the better. So Riverdale, Archie Horror, that new Jughead’s Time Police series Sina Grace is doing… it’s all great, and I’m not just saying that because I bug Archie every three months to let me do a horror book. (Laughs)
As far as TV goes, I’ve been catching up on Mindhunter, and it’s been a superb series — it brings some great performances and great angles on some truly disturbing characters — and I really enjoyed The Boys on Amazon. The Sinner is another amazing crime series that I’ve been catching up on as research for an upcoming series I’m working on, and I’ve been doing a rewatch of Altered Carbon, which is one of my all-time favorite Netflix series.
I’m also excited as hell to watch Terminator: Dark Fate — Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner is probably one of the single best movie characters in sci-fi, and I’m excited to see how her character evolves from T2. Lots of fun stuff to watch, and not nearly enough hours in the day to do it!